Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, Bernard

SMITH, formerly Schmidt, BERNARD (1630?–1708), called ‘Father Smith,’ organ-builder, born about 1630 in Germany, probably learnt his art from Christian Former of Wettin, near Halle (Rimbault). Accompanied by his nephews, Smith settled in England in response to the encouragement held out to foreigners to revive organ-building in this country. Upon his arrival, about 1660, Smith proceeded to erect an organ for the then banqueting-room of Whitehall. The specification of this, his earliest work, is given in Grove's ‘Dictionary’ (ii. 591). His appointment as organ-maker in ordinary to Charles II would date from this period, together with a grant of rooms formerly called ‘The Organ-builder's Workhouse,’ in Whitehall Palace itself.

The opening of Smith's new organ for Westminster Abbey in 1660 was recorded by Pepys: ‘30 December (Lord's Day) … I to the Abbey, and walked there, seeing the great confusion of people that come there to hear the organs’ (Pepys). The commission for Wells Cathedral organ in 1664 changed for a short time only the scene of Smith's activity, for he returned to supply organs to St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, 1667, St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, 1671 (the last payment in 1699 being made to Christian Smith), and St. Margaret's, Westminster, 1675. Smith accepted in 1676, and held until his death, the post of organist to this church. Before 1671 he completed the organ for the new Sheldonian theatre at Oxford at a cost of 120l. (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, ii. 223). The date of Smith's work at St. Mary's, Oxford, and the theatre, is uncertain, but the organ for Christ Church was erected in 1680. St. Peter's, Cornhill, and St. Mary Woolnoth were in 1681 supplied with Smith's organs; that for Durham Cathedral, begun in 1683, was practically finished by 1685, but quarter-tones and other improvements were added (cf. Dr. Armes's note in Grove's Dict. ii. 593), and the final payment, bringing the total to 800l., was received in 1691 (specification in History of the Organ).

The erection of this magnificent instrument almost coincided in point of time with the famous competition in organ-building carried on at the Temple Church, when the rivalry between Smith and Renatus Harris [q. v.] became a matter of public interest. The order for the Temple organ was given to Smith in September 1682. Harris, bringing influence to bear upon certain benchers, obtained leave to build and submit his instrument to the judgment of the committee. By virtue of the stress in competition, both organs were supplied with the newest stops: the cromorne, the vox humana, and the double courtel, while Smith (and possibly Harris) divided certain keys into quarter-notes, communicating with different sets of pipes, so that G sharp and A flat, and D sharp and E flat were not synonymous sounds (Burney; McCrory). On 2 June 1685 the Middle Temple made choice of Smith's organ, a choice confirmed by the decision of the joint committee. The deed of sale by which Smith received 1,000l. bore the date 21 June 1688 (specification in History of the Organ, and Grove, Dict.)

The superiority of Smith's work was now so far established that after their meeting of 19 Oct. 1694 the committee for the building of the organ in St. Paul's Cathedral treated immediately with Smith. No doubt a claim was put in by Harris prior to his crabbed queries during the construction of Smith's instrument, and his later appeals (sounding the patriotic note) to be allowed to erect a supplementary organ. Assailed from without, Smith was not secure from opposition within. Wren, after fruitlessly disputing the position of the organ, refused to enlarge the case, his own design, with a view to the reception of the full number of stops. At length, on 2 Dec. 1697, the organ was formally opened at a service in thanksgiving for the peace of Ryswick (specification in Simpson's Documents; Grove, Dict.)

The setting up of an organ for Trinity College chapel, Cambridge, was attended with the inevitable dissensions. While the master and fellows were disputing, Smith died in 1708, leaving his organ to receive the last touches from Schrider. Smith's appointment as organ-maker to the crown was continued in the reign of Anne, and ceased only with his death, which took place before 17 March 1707–8. On this date his will was proved by Elizabeth Smith, alias Houghton, his wife. He left one shilling apiece to his brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces. A portrait of Smith is in the Oxford music school, and is printed by Hawkins.

About forty to fifty organs are known to have been Smith's. They are, besides those already described: St. Mary's, Cambridge (University), 1697; Ripon Cathedral; St. David's, 1704; St. Mary at Hill, 1693; St. Clement Danes; St. George's Chapel, Windsor; Eton College chapel; Southwell collegiate church; Chapel Royal, Hampton Court; Manchester Cathedral choir organ; St. James's, Garlickhithe; St. Dunstan's, Tower Street (removed to St. Albans Abbey); High Church, Hull; All Saints', Derby; St. Margaret's, Leicester; West Walton, Norfolk; All Saints', Isleworth; Pembroke, Emmanuel, and Christ's College chapels, Cambridge; St. Katherine Cree, Leadenhall Street; Chester Cathedral; St. Olave's, Southwark; St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill; Danish Church, Wellclose Square; Sedgefield parish church, co. Durham; Whalley, Lancashire; Hadleigh, Suffolk; Chelsea old church; and St. Nicholas, Deptford.

Smith undertook his works with extreme conscientiousness and a fastidious choice of material, and a pure and even quality of tone was maintained through the series of stops (cf. Burney). He used for the Temple organ a composition of tin and lead in the proportions of 16 to 6, or rather less than three-fourths tin (Rimbault); but no metal pipes were made for Roger North's organ at Rougham (Burney in Rees's Cyclopædia, art. ‘North’).

Smith's daughter married Christopher Schrider, one of his workmen, who afterwards built organs for the Royal Chapel of St. James, 1710; St. Mary Abbott's, Kensington, 1716; St. Mary, Whitechapel, 1715 (Malcolm); St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 1726; St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey; Whitchurch, Shropshire, and Westminster Abbey, 1730.

The repairing of organs was an employment chiefly pursued by Smith's nephews, whose work was known all over the country. In 1702 one of them, Gerard Smith, put in order and superintended the removal of an organ in Lincoln Cathedral (Maddison). He built church organs for Bedford parish, 1715; All Hallows, Bread Street, 1717; Finedon, Northamptonshire, 1717; Little Stanmore; and St. George's, Hanover Square.

Of Christian Smith, organ-builder, of Hart Street, Bloomsbury, it may be assumed that he was brother to the great organ-maker, as one of his instruments (at Norwich) is dated 1643. He built for Tiverton church, Devonshire, 1696; and Boston church, Lincolnshire, 1717.

[Hopkins and Rimbault's History of the Organ, 1877, pp. 102–38; Hawkins's History of Music, with portrait, p. 691; Burney's Hist. of Music, iii. 436 et seq.; Grove's Dict. of Music, iii. 539, and for pitch and specifications, ii. 590; Dr. Sparrow Simpson's Documents relating to St. Paul's Cathedral, pp. lxi, 161–4, 167; Pepys's Diary (Braybrooke), vol. i.; Walcott's St. Margaret's, pp. 67, 77; North's Memoires of Musicke, pp. xv, 20; Mrs. Delany's Correspondence (containing some notes on Smith's method of construction, which are ascribed to Handel), iii. 405, 568, iv. 568; Chamberlayne's Angliæ Notitia, 1700; Jones and Freeman's Hist. of St. David's, pp. 95, 369; Warren's Tonometer, p. 8; Harding's Hist. of Tiverton, i. 90, iv. 10; Register of Wills, P.C.C., ‘Barrett,’ p. 72; Malcolm's Londinium Redivivum, iv. 447; Webb's Collection of Epitaphs, ii. 76; McCrory's A few Notes on the Temple Organ.]

L. M. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.253
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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18 ii 7 f.e. Smith, Bernard: after arrival insert about 1660